Coming off of last night’s 10-6 win, Maryland baseball had an opportunity to even its record at .500 for the first time all season against Ohio State on a chilly day in College Park Saturday.
The Terps found themselves tied at two after an early pitcher’s duel. After losing two-run leads in the seventh and ninth innings, this weekend’s middle game would come down to a decisive chance in extra innings.
It would be freshman Luke Shliger’s patient at-bat with the bases loaded in the tenth, a tense battle with Buckeye closer T.J. Brock that ended with a very mature take on a low and away running fastball that was just off the plate. The walk forced the winning run in from third, and the Terps chased Shliger into right field in celebration.
“I thought it was a really gritty effort out of our team today,” head coach Rob Vaughn said. “Really proud of the effort, really proud of our guys, and a good start to the weekend but we have one more to get here tomorrow.”
Shliger’s walk was part of an impressive afternoon from Maryland youngsters that earned the Terps a 5-4 victory over Ohio State in extras, clinching a series victory improving their record to 12-12.
Maryland had its opportunities to take the lead early on. A two-on-no-out situation in the second yielded no advantage against the talented Ohio State lefty Seth Lonsway after the Terps failed to move the runners into scoring position with less than two outs.
The third inning brought a similar opportunity after center fielder Chris Alleyne was hit by a pitch and stole his eighth and ninth bases of the year to advance to third. With the dangerous Benjamin Cowles at the plate, Lonsway elevated a fastball to strike out the Maryland shortstop and strand the go-ahead run at third.
“I know we punched out 11 times against [Lonsway], and that seems like a really big number. But the reality is, with the stuff he had we could have punched out 17 times,” Vaughn said.
Maryland’s sophomore starter Nick Dean and Lonsway exchanged scoreless innings, countering each other’s aggressiveness with back-and-forth dazzling displays of composure and maturity on the mound. Even when the Terps were able to put runners on early in innings, Lonsway was able to shut down the Maryland lineup from the stretch and keep the game scoreless.
“It feels great [to pitch well], especially after the outing last week against Nebraska,” Dean said. “This time out I really tried to focus on my pitch plan, just focusing on each single pitch, not getting caught up on the last one, and letting them put the ball in play for the guys behind me.”
Ohio State second baseman Marcus Ernst tallied the first hit for either team in the top of the fifth, a bloop single that fell just in front of a sliding Alleyne in center.
Catcher Riley Langerman broke up Lonsway’s budding no-hit effort in the next frame with a line-drive single to left with one out, setting the table for the top of the Maryland batting order. Langerman was thrown out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt, and Maryland’s opportunity appeared to have evaporated with two outs and no one on.
But Alleyne walked on the next pitch, and an errant pick-off throw from Lonsway rattled up the wall on the first baseline and allowed the Maryland speedster to motor all the way around from first and score the first run of the afternoon for the Terps.
“I was screaming ‘yes’ from the second the ball got over the [first baseman],” Vaughn said on sending Alleyne around third on the wild throw. “I had no question.”
First baseman Maxwell Costes led off the bottom of the sixth with a loud double to left-center after another scoreless frame from Dean in the top of the inning. Designated hitter Luke Shliger moved him to third with a bouncer to the right side, and Maryland’s first baseman scampered home on a ball that dribbled away from catcher Archer Brookman to double the lead to 2-0.
The Buckeyes refused to go quietly. Centerfielder Kade Kern led off the top of the seventh with a line-drive single to right and first baseman Conner Pohl deposited a long home run onto the practice fields beyond the right-center fence. In the blink of an eye, Dean’s shutout was gone and Maryland’s lead had disappeared entirely.
Freshman Matthew Shaw wasted no time in giving the Terps the lead in the eighth. He touched off on a Griffan Smith first-pitch fastball, the first offering of the inning, sending a long solo home run over the center-field fence. Fellow freshman Shliger followed up with a solo shot of his own to the opposite side of the batter’s eye in center to put Maryland up 4-2.
“Man, they’re tough. Those are tough dudes,” Vaughn said on the contributions from his young players. “You can’t really say enough about our two young pups in [Shliger] and Shaw. They’re fearless, they’re mature, they’re professional hitters. The game just doesn't get too big.”
The Buckeyes loaded the bases on three straight hits in the top of the ninth against closer Sam Bello, tying the game up on a walk and fielder’s choice double play. After delivering what appeared to be the final blow in the eighth, the Terps’ only hopes for a win would have to come in walk-off fashion.
“As much as I would have loved to have had Ramsey, he was not available today,” Vaughn said on bringing Bello back out for a shaky tenth inning. “[Bello] just got banged around. His [pitch velocity] wasn’t quite what it [usually is], he didn’t command the ball quite like he normally does.”
Alleyne walked to lead off the bottom of the tenth after David Falco closed the door on the Buckeye threat in the top of the frame. The Terps’ centerfielder promptly advanced on a ball in the dirt and a Shaw hit by a pitch and Costes intentional walk loaded the bases with one out for Shliger.
The freshman took his base on balls, forcing in Alleyne and giving the Terps the walk-off victory.
“With the bases loaded, I’m in a pretty good situation where even a walk is a hit in that aspect,” Shliger said. “My whole thought process was to not hit a jack there ... my whole approach was to stay over a ball. Once I got him to 3-2 I kind of knew he was going to go heater, so I was geared up for the heater and it made it easier to recognize.”
Three things to know
1. Nick Dean turned in his best outing of the season. The young righty, who had not pitched more than five innings in a start so far this season and owned a 5.84 ERA coming into Saturday’s game, was much improved against a good Ohio State team. He tossed seven innings of two-run baseball with eight strikeouts and gave the Terps ample time to come up with runs of their own. Dean’s solid form will be crucial for Maryland the rest of the way; adding another shutdown weekend starter is exactly what the Terps need to climb back into the top of the conference standings.
“I feel like I get hurt the most when I walk guys and put guys on for free,” Dean said on what made him successful on Saturday. “So just limiting that as much as I can, I feel like I give myself the best chance.”
2. The Terps took advantage of their offensive opportunities down the stretch. After squandering early scoring chances against Lonsway, Maryland took advantage of their opportunities late to come away with a win. Alleyne’s mad dash to the plate and Costes’ run on a passed ball were two examples of the Terps putting themselves in positions to take advantage of mistakes, something the team had failed to do early in the season. Shaw and Shliger’s long balls in the eighth exemplified the team’s solid approach at the plate and showed big moment potential for the future of the program. Shliger’s at-bat in the tenth showed composure beyond the freshman’s years in a crucial spot late in the contest.
3. Closer Sam Bello stumbled for just the second time this season. The go-to closer for Vaughn’s squad surrendered two runs on five hits over an inning and two-thirds, his roughest outing since March 27 against Iowa. Bello has been largely lights out this year, pitching to a 2.57 ERA over 14 innings, racking up four saves, and boasting a paltry .79 WHIP coming into Saturday’s game. Expect Bello to return to form in the coming weeks, especially as the weather warms up and he can reach back for his mid to upper-90s fastball velocity.